Title: A Complicated Kindness
Author: Miriam Toews
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Publication Date: 2004
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City’s East Village. Instead she’s trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: “the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager.” East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi’s uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that’s tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock ’n’ roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities or staying up past nine o’clock.
It’s hard to articulate how I feel about this book, so I’m struggling a bit to write this review. I can’t say I loved or hated this book. Reading it years after the fact, I feel like there was so much hype surrounding this book that when I finally got to reading it, there’s no way it could have ever lived up to my expectations. For that reason, I did not love A Complicated Kindness in the same way that I did The Flying Troutmans.
Nomi is a teen in a mennonite town ruled by it’s minister, Nomi’s uncle. There is no room for freedom and those who oppose the religion are banished. This leaves Nomi and her father without her mother and sister. They’re living an empty existence in this town. Nomi in particular is trying to reconcile the religious beliefs she’s been brought up with and the rebellious ways of her kin. Nomi is quirky and is seeking meaning her her life. She doesn’t have aspirations beyond the pre-determined life of working in the town factory, but she can’t help but wonder what it is her mother and sister saw outside of their community. Nomi is really the best part of this book. She is our eyes into this small community, showing us what it’s like and how she lives. Her perceptions are influenced by her youthful opinions and naiveté.
What I didn’t like about this book is that I found that nothing really happens. It wasn’t exciting or as engaging as it could have been. We’re really just privy to Nomi’s day-to-day life, but the conflicts aren’t fully developed and really could have been much more dramatic. I felt like there could have been stronger feelings or greater conflict between Nomi’s family and without that, I was a bit disappointed. It was an enjoyable read, but I wish I’d read this book back when there was so much buzz about it, and perhaps I could have been a part of the group of readers who were generating all that hype. Alas, reading it so many years later, I was let down a bit. Still, Toews is an excellent writer who creates interesting and well-developed characters. I will continue to make my way through her collection of writing!